Who to watch: John Petty. He may never live up to his five-star, high school All-American hype, but the sophomore from Huntsville is improving as a player, even if his shooting percentage doesn’t reflect it. But Petty is taking the ball inside more, which is leading to more chances from the free throw line. He doesn’t automatically go in the tank if his first shot of the night rims out. His rebounds per game have nearly doubled and his assists are up from last season as well. Best of all he’s averaging nearly 32 minutes a night, which is sorely needed for a Bama team that only has one quality backcourt player coming off the bench.
What to watch for: Finishing strong on defense. Bama has some of the elements in place for a winning defense. It may not generate a lot of turnovers, but it generally does a good job of closing down passing lanes to deny assists and force teams into lower-percentage scoring chances. It doesn’t give up many offensive rebounds or trips to the foul line, cutting off more sources of easy points. And the Crimson Tide is one of the nation’s best shot blocking teams. But the defense is somehow less than the sum of those parts, particularly in the final 20 minutes of a game. Alabama allows an average of 30.2 points in the first half, but that balloons to 42.1 points after halftime. Alabama has to find a way to plug that leak, particularly along the perimeter. Penn State has already played in four one-possession games this year (and would have been in a fifth if not for a wild coaching meltdown in the Duquesne game), so don’t expect the Lions to surrender easily should they fall behind.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris